So What Do Motorists Really Think of Us?
Those of us who take riding seriously on any level wear our helmets. Some of us choose to wear them but not all the time. Helmets can and do save lives. More importantly, helmets in combination with the rest of the protective riding gear help to save lives and lessen serious injuries and recovery time.
But what do those folks in cars and trucks think when they see a person riding a two wheeler? How do they react to a rider wearing a helmet? How about riders not wearing helmets?
This question has plagued me for years. You see, I'm one of those riders whose attitude is focussed on being aware of your surroundings first and foremost. I rode for twenty years without a helmet. Never got into a scrape. I rode Milwaukee, Chicago and outlying areas in all kinds of weather. I firmly believed as I do now that anticipation and riding within one's ability is paramount. I'd seen generations of families who rode sans helmet. Rarely was there ever a crash. I can only think of one which involved a head injury and that person was drunk. Most often people wore leathers neck to feet and while you heard the occasional stories about people going down, a broken limb was about the worst of it.
I can hear people's teeth grinding as they read this.
This is not about the usefulness of wearing helmets. This is about how we are percieved by non riding motorists we share the road with.
Not too long ago I decided to ride without my helmet. I did it for about a week or so. I discovered something truly odd. Something which stuck with me and made me ask all sorts of questions.
Why are people in cars and trucks behaving like this? Am I reading something into what I seem to be experiencing or not?
I told a few people what I'd been doing. Non riders acted like they had a say in the matter. Some riders really got mad at me for not wearing a helmet. Others considered what I said and actually made the connection I'm trying to make here. For you. I feel the last group of respondants were the most objective. Looking at this from the perspective of the average motorist, you start to get an idea of the safety risk catagories they choose to put us in by their perception of the situation.
In other words, when they see safety gear on a rider, their perception is more likely to be that the rider is safer to drive in closer proximity to. When they see a rider without safety gear they recognize, such as the ubiquitous helmet, they might think that rider is crazy and give the person more road space.
Think I'm the one whose crazy? Here's an honest to goodness study done bearing out the average perception of the non motorcycle riding motorist. These road tests were done in traffic. In situations with and without helmets. While the study was done with bicyclists in mind, I think this correlates perfectly to motorcyclists. Again, I'm not questioning the benefit of wearing helmets. I'm interested in how we are percieved and treated by non riding motorists we share the road with.
The above study was done to collect data about drivers who actually see the bicyclists they share the road with. Anticipating hazards and riding accordingly is still our, the riders' full responsibility.
One of the most potentially harmful situations we face while riding has more to do with whether we're seen by other motorists and how we're percieved by those motorists.
If they see you, will they "respect" your position on the road?
Does the gear you wear give them any reasons to choose whether or not to give you more riding space?
If they don't, are you prepared for it?
In general it seems people in cars and trucks think we don't belong on their roads. That we're crazy to be riding our motorcycles and scooters alongside them. And for some reason, they're willing to believe a mere helmet must mean that guy on the bike is safer than the one they saw earlier without a helmet. My experience seems to be in line with the above study. It would appear motorists equate a helmeted motorcyclist having enough protection that they (motorists) can drive into our legal space without worry. After all, that rider's helmet means they're safe and we can use a little of their space if we want to.